Second Mercersburg Intensive Completes Academic Year
The second annual Mercersburg Intensive took place May 23 through June 2 for students in the ninth, 10th, and 11th grades. The two-week intensive allowed students to immerse themselves in a single topic at the end of the spring term.
Faculty, staff, and students curated a roster of 35 course topics, many of which were designed specifically with a focus on this year’s school theme, “Health and Wellness.” While this is the second year the school has provided this experience, it’s the first year it has done so in person. “It’s a fresh adventure for all of us,” says John David Bennett P ’12, ’19, ’24, Mercersburg’s dean of curricular innovation.
Students were allowed to register for three Intensive choices; more than 80 percent of students received their first choice. Course titles are organized into eight categories: cultural, social, food, well-being, arts, sciences, writing and reading, and athletics. The range of subjects includes “The Captain Class: Leadership In Athletics And Beyond”; “Literary Adaptation: Find Your Play Script Or Screenplay”; “Garage Band”; “Full-on Frontier: Can You Live in the 18th Century?”; “Mindfulness, Yoga, And Spirituality”; “Immigration and Hispanic Culture: Adapting To U.S. Culture and Cuisine”; “The Unique Impact of Social Media on Gen Z”; and “Social, Cultural, and Scientific Revolutions.”
A total of 52 faculty and staff members proposed courses, including one co-designed by language faculty member Heather Prescott and current student Corbin Kelly ’24. Prescott and Kelly are introducing genealogy to students; the course, called “Become Your Family’s Archivist,” allows students to explore their family history by finding, preserving, and storing heirlooms, reading and transcribing hand-written letters, learning how to conduct genealogical research, gathering oral histories through interviews, and exploring physical places rich with history.
“In the course, students have learned how to interview family members in new and purposeful ways,” says Prescott. “They've also made discoveries about items on display in their homes, many of which they've seen for years but never observed. Thus, they connect the oft-seen military document on the wall to an ancestor, who is brought back to life through genealogical research. These students can now speak authoritatively about their relatives and family history. They can tell more comprehensive and anecdotal stories that make lost family members and heirlooms part of students' 21st-century lives.”
Arts Department Head and Director of Theatre Kelly Dowling P ’21, ’21, ’23 is teaching a class called “Fashionably Sustainable.” In this class, students study the fast fashion industry that offers more choices for individuals to express themselves, but negatively impacts the environment and can create human rights violations. In the course, students will learn how to balance personal style with social activism by learning techniques on upcycling, sewing and mending garments, and more.
“So many students ask about ‘adulting’ skills and worry that their academic studies have left some gaps in their practical knowledge,” says Dowling. “I love that Intensives can be a place where we offer hands-on experiences. This year, for me, it's teaching sewing and alterations to encourage less fashion consumption and waste. I hope the students will pass along what they learn to friends in the future. These two weeks could have a bigger impact than we realize!”
The school continues to fine-tune the program, most notably through the yearly “Summer Institute” when faculty immerse themselves in a weeklong development and training program. Last summer, faculty heard from experts such as Grant Lichtman, an author and speaker, who helps reimagine how schools prepare their students for an uncertain, complex, world, and Gever Tulley, founder of The Brightworks School in San Francisco, whose school gives students real problems to solve and the tools and agency to find solutions. Many of the Intensive courses start with a real problem, like Dowling’s course, and allow students to reimagine how to solve the problem, develop a new skill, or find a passion that they otherwise may not have been exposed to.
“Intensives are new to Mercersburg, but there are schools around the world, including a handful of our peer schools, who have had short immersive terms for years,” says Bennett. “The pandemic prompted us to give it a try, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, so we're taking another swing this year and hope to refine the practice until we have one of the best Intensive programs in the country.”
To learn more about the Mercersburg Intensive, read a feature story from Mercersburg Academy magazine, view highlights from last year’s experience, and listen to a podcast moderated by Associate Head of School for School Life Julia Stojak Maurer ’90, P ’18, ’20, ’22, ’23.